It might surprise you to learn that English is not even close to being the language with the highest number of native speakers. After all, when compared to Chinese, it is the mother tongue to 3.5 times fewer people. Nonetheless, it’s still the most widely used language to communicate in.
At large, this has to do with English being globally accepted as the Lingua Franca of the 21st century – it is utilized in technology, science, business, and entertainment industries almost universally. It is estimated that approximately 750 million people speak English as a second language, bringing the list of total speakers above 1 billion.
For anyone preparing to enter the job market (or those who wish to stay relevant), this has serious implications. In effect, these numbers clearly show that if you want to make it professionally, your best bet would be to ensure you speak English.
But speaking a language and being proficient in one are two quite different things. Just think about it. How you conduct yourself privately doesn’t always translate into how you want to present yourself to potential employers or business partners. Thus, if the etiquette of business differs from how you act with your friends and family, you can expect the language to be different as well.
Making a Good Impression
In addition to having a firm handshake, being punctual, dressing for the occasion, and showing a good work ethic, the way you express your thoughts (whether spoken or in writing) is sure to leave an impression on potential investors, employers, and coworkers. This is why making sure your English is as polished as possible should rank high on your to-do list.
Speaking in a professional manner (without colloquialisms, slang, or downright rude remarks), as well as ensuring that your writing is a reflection of the qualities you bring to the table, should both be high on your list of priorities. Ultimately, nobody wants to collaborate with a person who composes sloppy business emails or is unable to communicate their needs and ideas properly.
If you’re looking for a job, you should definitely prioritize your language skills, as they can be of great help in the search process. But even if you’re well-established in your position and have no intention of switching careers, it might not be a bad idea to consider investing in your communication skills. Besides, with today’s rapid changes in every single market, staying at the top of your game in all aspects is a definite must.
Becoming Proficient: Non-native Speakers
With the rising popularity of using English for in-house communication in international corporations, as well as the remote opportunities available to experts all over the world, you need to make sure you’re not behind on your second language proficiency. Despite not being brought up speaking English in your household, you can still do a lot to perfect your knowledge.
Today, a wide variety of traditional and non-traditional resources are available, some of which are completely free to use. This means that you can make tremendous progress by simply dedicating a few hours of your working week to practicing. Here are some fantastic resources to make use of.
1) Apps and Games
Who says apps and mobile phone games are only reserved for entertainment?
In the last few years, there has been a steady rise in the popularity of personal-development mobile programs that help you learn something new on a regular basis. Duolingo is a great example of an app that can help you get better at English, just by dedicating five minutes of your time every day.
Alternatively, you can purchase a computer game that relies on a narrative and spend a couple of hours every week playing. You’ll find that after a few months, your vocabulary will have significantly increased, which can serve as a great building block for further development.
2) TV Shows, Movies & Music
It’s not an uncommon thing to hear that someone learned a language by being exposed to it through TV or music. Although not enough in itself, passive language learning can be a great way to work on your English continuously.
So, next time you find yourself looking for some relaxation, you can watch an episode of your favorite sitcom on Netflix. Just make sure it’s highly engaging, covers everyday situations, and has subtitles in your native tongue.
If your language level is already relatively high, it would be best if you exposed yourself to as much written content as possible. You can opt for fiction books, news, magazines, blogs, etc. Better yet, you can choose to read specialized literature such as research papers, newsletters, and non-fiction.
Keep a dictionary nearby (most e-book readers have them already integrated), and go through each text slowly and carefully, making sure you understand it fully. To help your brain store new information more efficiently, you can write down all the new words and phrases, along with their meanings and examples of their use.
Not many things can compete with exposure when it comes to foreign language learning. If you have the means, you should definitely try to visit countries where you can use your communication skills.
Conversing with native speakers is highly beneficial in that it exposes you to real-life situations, forcing you to stop translating inside your head and start thinking in the target language.
6) ESL Courses
Of course, absolutely nothing can compete with a well-structured ESL course when it comes to investing in your growth. There’s a wide variety of tests you can prepare for, including IELTS, CPE, TOEFL, and many more. Even if you don’t sit the exam, you’ll receive invaluable knowledge you can use in your career. Each of the abovementioned tests has its main advantages and disadvantages:
This international standardized test is the one most commonly required by academic institutions in English-speaking countries. IELTS is score-based, which means the higher you score, the better. It focuses on the four language skills: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. The IELTS writing task is particularly advantageous for those who intend to enter the business world, as it trains the student to express their thoughts in a concise and organized manner, while also focusing on grammar and spelling (which can be problematic even among native speakers).
This C2 certificate is provided by the University of Cambridge English Language Assessment board as proof of the learner reaching a native or near-native proficiency in English. It’s widely accepted as certification for teaching English as a foreign language in schools. Furthermore, it’s accepted in the academic community for postgraduate courses and high-level research projects, as well as leadership positions in international business.
Another test for those who want to enroll in an English-speaking university, TOEFL is now mostly internet-based. This means that you can get your diploma relatively fast, usually within a few weeks of having applied. So if you’re in a hurry to get certified, it’s definitely the way to go.
No matter which international test you choose to take, it’s important to approach the preparation process seriously.
For a number of people, this will mean getting a good tutor. An experienced teacher can help you identify common mistakes and problematic areas, and provide you with the guidance and tools to overcome these challenges. They will also have previous experience of preparing students to take these tests and can give you expert tips and tricks on anything you should focus on to get the highest possible score (as well as to walk away with a better grasp of English).
Becoming Eloquent and Excelling at Writing: Native Speakers
The thing about being a proficient speaker is that the work never stops. Even if you grew up speaking English with your family and friends, it’s entirely up to you to work on your eloquence, your writing style, and overall communication skills. This means that most native speakers have plenty to do when it comes to making sure they’re presenting themselves in the best possible light.
Careers in fields such as public relations and marketing will necessitate the ability to get messages across clearly and concisely, without causing unintended damage. The same is true for aspiring lawyers, managers, tradespeople, and customer service representatives.
Especially when communicating through email, it’s crucial to remember that what we write remains available for (almost) forever. If left open for interpretation, this can have serious consequences on anyone’s career. This is why it’s best to dedicate yourself to constantly improving your vocabulary.
a) Niche-specific Language
Those who work in fields that are highly specific regarding the language they use will need to dedicate time to learning the involved words and phrases. For example, someone working in the tech industry may need to become familiar with scientific terms or certain programming languages. Similarly, a person who intends to earn their living as a stock-broker needs to keep up on all the latest jargon.
Ideally, you’ll already have some knowledge of specific terms before starting at a position. You can achieve this by reading field-specific publications or through higher education. However, it’s important to remember that languages are living things, which means they change all the time – ultimately, it’s up to the speaker to make an effort to keep up.
b) Avoid Developing Bad Habits
The way we speak often comes down to the habits that we’ve allowed ourselves to develop. If you pay close attention to the type of language you use, you may be surprised to find that you revert to certain expressions too often.
For example, clutter words and phrases such as like, literally, just, and others have no business being in your everyday vocabulary. Most of the time, these expressions are used by habit, and they don’t add anything to the message you’re trying to relay. You can also identify phrases that pop up too frequently in your writing and try to eliminate them from your emails, reports, and other forms of written communication.
Furthermore, if you’re accustomed to using swear words (or slurs), make it an immediate task to completely remove them from your vocabulary. This way, you won’t risk saying something you shouldn’t, and probably don’t even mean, in an important situation.
d) Working on Assertive Communication
Last but not least, it’s quite important to pay attention not only to what you say but also how you say it. Since communication is crucial in making any team efficient, it’s best that you start learning about the most efficient ways to approach giving instructions, pointing out mistakes, or offering advice on how to make something better.
Your colleagues, as well as your superiors, will appreciate you considerably more if they know that you’re easy to communicate with. Skills you should strive to work on include:
- Active listening – not just nodding your head and then going about and disregarding coworkers.
- Respect and friendliness in both spoken and written communication.
Very often, these are the skills companies want in leadership positions, so if your ambitions include managing or leading, definitely dedicate some time to developing them.
Whether English is your native, second, or third language, there’s always something you can do to improve it. Despite not using it on a daily basis, you may just find that your proficiency is what helps you land that dream job. Furthermore, a strong command of English can be a source of extra income – whether you choose to write or decide to teach online, it can definitely help you get through if you ever hit a rough patch.
If you’re not sure where to start, it’s best to tackle the four basic language skills. Focusing on writing and speaking will offer a great advantage when you have to compete with qualified candidates for a coveted position. Similarly, listening and reading skills can be beneficial in broadening your knowledge regarding any subject, helping you stay in the loop on topics relevant to your profession.
A final word of advice would be not to forget about other languages either. Learning Mandarin, Spanish, Russian, or Arabic can also be a great way to boost your career prospects. After all, speaking a language does so much more than widen your horizons: it gives you the unique opportunity to communicate with people all around the world while helping you stay sensitive to their unique cultural practices.
And that’s what true business success is all about – enabling yourself to work with anyone, anywhere, without getting lost in translation.